How to Make the Most of Your Professors’ Office Hours

by Stephanie Thurrott

Ask some of the most successful college students what they do to stay on top of their classwork and a lot of them will tell you they take advantage of their professors’ office hours. Your professors want to help you learn, grow, and succeed, and meeting with them individually can give them—and you—that opportunity.

Yet many students overlook this option. You might feel uncomfortable approaching your professor for a one-on-one meeting, but the benefits are well worth it! Most professors welcome the opportunity to build relationships with their students, and they can help guide you toward success in their classes.

“The job of a professor is not only to communicate information, but also to encourage students to become a certain kind of person—someone who is thoughtful, curious, and intellectually integrious,” said Jessica Wai-Fong Wong, Ph.D., assistant professor of systematic theology at Azusa Pacific University. “At its heart, education is about formation. We must care for a student’s intellectual growth as well as for their well-being as a whole person. After all, when people feel cared for and supported, they are better able to open themselves up to the challenges that often accompany the learning process.”

How You Can Benefit from Office Hours

Meeting with your professors can boost your academic, professional, and personal lives. When you check in one-on-one with your professors periodically, here’s what you can gain:

  • Enhanced clarity on assignments. Even if you think you understand an assignment, sharing your thoughts with your professor can help make sure you’re on the right track. You’ll likely get some specific insights that can help you focus your work.
  • Individualized assistance. Maybe you understand most of the concepts in a math class, but you’re struggling in one area. This is a great reason to take advantage of one-on-one time! Your professor can tailor assistance to exactly what you need during your visit.
  • A relationship that can enhance your career. A strong working relationship with a professor gives you someone to turn to for letters of recommendation and professional introductions, and could also lead to research or internship opportunities.
  • Strengthened connections on a personal level. Some of the most rewarding relationships you’ll develop in college will stem from connections you make with professors, and those connections are often cultivated in one-on-one conversations like these.

Office hours give professors an opportunity to support students holistically—they recognize that students are people who lead full, complex lives, and appreciate the chance to help. “I see my role during these meetings not strictly as that of a professor, but also as a pastor,” said Dr. Wai-Fong Wong. “Teaching is a ministry, and office hours provide the space for us to care for our students in this manner.”

5 Ways to Make the Most of Office Hours

Your professor wants to support you in these meetings, so it’s best to come prepared. With a little forethought, you and your professor can both benefit. Here are five tips for making the most of your time together.

1. Plan ahead. The best time to visit your professor is when you’re writing the first draft of that paper or developing a study plan for the upcoming test. Your professor won’t be able to offer you much help if you stop in the day before an assignment is due.

2. Be specific. What exactly didn’t you understand? Have a few questions prepared so you can guide the conversation toward what you need.

3. Make it a habit. Don’t just stop by a professor’s office once at the beginning of the semester to introduce yourself. Ask your professor if you can come by again to review a revised draft of a paper or to make sure your test prep is on track.

4. Get there early. If it works with your schedule, stop by at the beginning of your professor’s time block. If you show up ten minutes before the ending time and another student is already there, you could miss your chance to meet that day.

5. Take notes. You won’t remember everything your professor says—especially if you’re nervous about meeting with them in the first place! Jot down what you need to remember, electronically or with pen and paper.

Are you ready to benefit from a one-on-one session with your professor? Check your syllabus for details or find your professor’s office hours in the school’s faculty directory.